Racial Profiling and “Consent” Searches

The ACLU and a number of civil rights organizations here in Chicago have released a report on racial profiling by the Illinois State Police in regards to traffic stops. In essence, blacks are “asked” if it’s ok to look around their vehicle three times more often than whites and Hispanics are “asked” twice as many times as whites if the ISP can just poke around. And you know what? It’s the whites with the drugs!

The results show that during consent searches, 8.85% of whites searched had contraband (pot, usually) on them, and only 5.06% of blacks and 1.12% of Hispanics have contraband.

Let me explain.

A consent search occurs when there is no probable cause or even reasonable suspicion to search your car. This means, in practical terms, that you’re speeding, a brake light is out, something traffic related is going on but nothing is arousing the suspicion of the officer otherwise. However, that officer has a bug up his butt and he wants to see what might be in that car. So he “asks” you. Why do I keep putting “asked” into quotes? Because only ironic air-quotes (picture me making air quotes while typing this) can capture the heavily fraught situation that is you being a minority and the police asking, politely, but without explanation, whether they can look around your car.

It is no small thing to stand up to a police officer, state trooper, sheriff, what have you. When one asks if they can look around your car, even a legally savvy driver may hesitate before stepping up and demanding to know why. That is exactly what the Illinois State Police is counting on. Yet, even though they search Hispanics like this twice as much as they search whites, they’re uncovering drugs in only 1 in a 100 searches? Seriously?

Let’s break down some other numbers from the Chicago Tribune story on this. There were 23,000 searches like this out of 2.4 million (?!) traffic stops by the Illinois State Police in 2007. That’s 63 “consensual” searches a day. Out of them, 18% of them revealed contraband. Depending on your orientation, you might think that a slightly less than on 1 in 5 hit rate is good for a cop, or as I do, think that’s pathetically low for an intrusion into your vehicle. Whatever happened to the United States where a cop poking around your business for no reason was unacceptable? Or were we ever like that?

If anything drives me nuts about conservative politicians, it’s that few are of the strong conservative values types actually think less government intrusion is a good thing. In other words, when its blacks and Hispanics getting searched and bothered for admittedly NO REASON WHATSOVER, it’s an acceptable risk in the War on (Drugs, Terrorism, Immigrants, Violence, You Name It). Even though the evidence is staring them right in the eyes that it’s whites who have more contraband on them!

Actually, I can explain this pretty easily. To an Illinois State Trooper, every single Hispanic and black person is suspicious…because they’re stereotyping. However, Illinois State Troopers aren’t stupid, and they recognize suspicious looking whites when they see them. So they have a higher hit rate with whites because they are more targeted (only stoners and tweakers are “asked” to be searched) than with the dragnet they use on blacks and Hispanics (all of them are suspicious).

I hope that Windy Pundit jumps on this a bit, since his grasp of statistics is far greater than mine.

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One response to “Racial Profiling and “Consent” Searches

  1. a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free,

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